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On Biblicism

Two weeks ago, I came close to losing my job.

I was confronted by a colleague who wanted to know if I believe the Bible is true. I’d earlier made the claim that the Creation story in Genesis is myth. Of course, I explained that the word “myth” in literature refers to any explanation of origin. It’s a question of genre not of truth.

The conversation ended well, and I was encouraged by my colleague’s attempt to understand rather than judge. But the incident reminded me of a concern I have with Christian culture and biblical interpretation.

Many Christians ā€“ particularly evangelicals ā€“ claim the Bible is completely and literally true, a claim that fails to account for human subjectivity or theological nuance. Take the book of Leviticus, for example. Christians are quick to point out that the book is completely true, especially when quoting 18:22, a verse that is widely interpreted as a prohibition of homosexuality: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination.” But these same Christians too often cast off the rest as “cleanliness rules” that no longer apply, especially the bits about mildew and baldness.

There is some reason for this reading. A controversy in the early Church considered how to apply the book of Leviticus to Gentile believers. A special council of elders and apostles was held at Jerusalem (Acts 15), and James recommended that the new followers of the Way be encouraged to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals, and from blood. In one fell swoop, the council erased all of Leviticus except 7:26-27; 17:10-12; 18:6-25; 19:4, 26 & 29; 20:10-21; and 26:1.

Later, in his first letter to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul acts without the benefit of the council and further erases all that’s left of Leviticus except for 18:6-25; 19:4 & 29; 20:10-21; and 26:1.

In the first case, the council members didn’t claim certainty or special knowledge. It just “seemed good.” In the second case, Paul appealed to logic in making his argument.

But Christians today widely accept both “reinterpretations” of Leviticus because it’s stated in one case that the Holy Spirit inspired or confirmed the decision, and it’s implied in the other.

Unfortunately, new “reinterpretations” aren’t allowed in fundamentalist or evangelical circles, and I fear this inability to reconsider is a sign of our weakness, not of our strength.

The Jerusalem council didn’t question its ability to hear God and respond in obedience.

Neither should we.

Unfortunately, new “reinterpretations” aren’t allowed in fundamentalist or evangelical circles, and I fear this inability to reconsider is a sign of our weakness, not of our strength.

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